Fly Fishing MacNab
Just as no two people are
alike you can apply the same principle to anglers. There
are those who would never kill a fish and there are those
who hate to put them back. Some like to catch big bulbous
carp, some like standing on a beach all night long in winter,
others like working a fly on a chalk stream.
They like to argue too which probably explains
the solitary nature of angling, unlike shooting and fox
hunting where part of the appeal is the group dynamics in
pursuits that lend themselves to showing off.
I have shot occasionally, never so much
to become good at it, but just enough to know that it has
as much in common with fishing as cats have with dogs. In
fact I think that the analogy stands comparison.
Cats are solitary hunters that creep up
on their prey. They outthink it before they pounce. Dogs,
on the other hand, spend a lot of time yapping and wagging
their tales, running around each other, barging and growling.
This is exactly the behaviour of the shooting
party to which I have been invited for the past four years.
Their gun dogs, in contrast, are fairly placid. It’s
a male thing, a testosterone-loaded mix of city and country
types crammed together in a Devon cottage for the weekend,
where a pack ascendancy is established by a combination
of arm wrestling, wit, drinking, childish pranks and –
I almost forgot – shooting.
At least this year no-one brought any
wallnuts to demonstrate their “skill” in breaking
them on the table with their forehead. That was last year’s
stunt and, even then, someone had to go one better with
a hazelnut. How do you explain to your family and colleagues
an egg-shaped lump on your forehead?
Fishing is about river craft and problem
solving. It’s a personal thing: you and the quarry.
If anything it is a study in introversion. It tends to attract
the pedant and the perfectionist. Shooting is social with
plenty of sound and fury. Indeed one of my shooting companions
wondered if people would still do it if they took away the
Apart from sharing the same hunting roots,
these two pursuits are like chalk and cheese. There’s
a stark finality to shooting that carries some obvious responsibilities.
The shooter plays the role of executioner while the angler
can play God. Do you put it back or do you knock it on the
These same issues can arise in shooting.
I was urged to shoot a magpie on one drive but left it.
Most shooters I know portray magpies as the evil murderers
of songbirds. But magpies have established their niche in
the ecosystem. If I don’t plan to eat something, I
don’t want to kill it.
This is the cat-like ethical dilemma of
the angler. Do we hunt to eat or just for the fun of it?
Is it fair to stalk a living thing for sport? Cats don’t
seem to worry about this. Neither do most of their owners.
So neither do I. Not often, anyway.
The shooting/fishing overlap has reminded
me of the John Buchan novel, John Macnab. The original challenges
in the book involved poaching a red stag, a brace of grouse
and a salmon from various forewarned landowners. The modern
interpretation is to shoot a red deer, a brace of grouse
and catch a salmon within one day.
For much of this year I have been pondering
over a fly fishing Macnab. A salmon, a sea trout and a brown
trout ought to be quite straightforward. But the addition
of a sea bass would make it interesting.
A chat with David Pilkington, one of the
instructors at the Arundell Arms in Devon, set me thinking
about the feasibility. While he spends much of his time
with anglers seeking sea trout and brown trout, he can also
point out good bass fishing spots within half an hour’s
drive of the hotel.
The problem with the Cornish and Devonshire
rivers is that they don’t have strong salmon runs.
It would be a tough proposition to land all four species
there within 24 hours. Come summer you could start at midnight
for the sea trout, catch a quick brown trout early on then
nip up to the coast for school bass if you have planned
it right for the tides. That would still leave the salmon.
A flight to Scotland from Exeter, or Cardiff
if you were to start a bit nearer in Wales, would get you
within reach of a good salmon river in plenty of time for
the evening. It’s not a casual challenge because the
tide patterns are crucial for sea bass. To stop any short-cutting
I should also say that the fish would need to be caught
from the bank.
How about it? Has anyone done this already?
There’s a bottle of champagne for the best attempt
I hear about and maybe a whole case for anyone who can satisfy
me that they have pulled it off. I would also be interested
to hear of particular strategies or alternative Macnab-like
fishing challenges in other parts of the world. But there
can only be one fishing Macnab and this is it: salmon, sea
trout, brown trout and sea bass, caught from the bank on
the fly in a single calendar day.